Carnatic music vocalist TM Krishna challenges new IT rules for impinging on his fundamental rights; Madras HC issues notice to Centre

THE Madras High Court Thursday sent a notice to the Central Government on a petition filed by Carnatic music vocalist, cultural critic, and writer T. M. Krishna challenging the “Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021”.

A division bench led by Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee asked the Centre to file its affidavit within three weeks. The matter will now be heard after four weeks.

The petition challenges the Intermediaries Rules on five major grounds:

  • The 2021 Rules violate freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution;
  • They violate the freedom to practice any profession under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution;
  • They violate the fundamental right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution;
  • They are manifestly arbitrary and suffer from excessive delegation, thus violating Article 14 of the Constitution; and
  • They are ultra vires the Information Technology Act, 2000;
  • Advocate Suhrith Parthasarthy, for Krishna, argued that the Rules impinged the fundamental rights of the petitioner, and were ultra vires the parent act i.e. Information Technology Act, 2000.

The Internet Freedom Foundation provided legal assistance in the drafting and filing of the petition through advocates Vrinda Bhandari, Abhinav Sekhri, Sanjana Srikumar, Tanmay Singh and Krishnesh Bapat.

Krishna in his plea contended that the new IT Rules offended his right as an artist and cultural commentator by both imposing a chilling effect on free speech, and by impinging on his right to privacy.

He said Part II of the Rules violated his rights as a user of social media services, while Part III of the same rules breached his right as a creator of online content.

Earlier, the Delhi High Court also issued notice to the Centre on pleas filed by The Wire and The Quint challenging the new digital media rules in so far as they seek to regulate digital media platforms. The Kerala High Court also issued notice to Centre on a challenge to the rules by LiveLaw.

The Centre issued the rules on February 25 to regulate the functioning of online media portals and publishers, over-the-top (OTT platforms), and social media intermediaries.

Several leading digital rights activists and newspapers, including The Indian Express, The Telegraph and The Hindu, have been vocal critics of the new regulatory laws.

They have alleged that the new guidelines breach the freedom of speech, and will be used to crackdown on dissent in the country. An editorial published in The Hindu titled, “wolf in watchdog’s clothing,” had described the new rules as predatory.

(With inputs from the Internet Freedom Foundation.)

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